Do you complement or compliment?

in Back to basics

The other day, a client asked me to confirm that ‘complemented’ was spelled correctly in a sentence I’d written. Her query reminded me how commonly ‘complement’ and ‘compliment’ are confused.

Here’s my quick guide to these two words:


  • when you want to say something enhances or improves something else (‘the sauce really complemented the fish’)
  • when you want to say you’ve got the requisite number or quantity of something (‘we had a full complement of staff at our last team meeting’)


  • When you want to praise or admire something or someone (‘I complimented her on her presentation’)

Patricia said my dress really complemented my hair colour, which was a lovely compliment to receive.

And finally, it’s the ‘i’ version you use when something is free (‘the bread we had at the start of our meal was complimentary’).




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